At first glance, horseback riding might not seem like much of a workout. After all, the horse is doing all the work, right? Not exactly. As anybody who's ever ridden a horse knows, horseback riding offers a serious challenge to the body (hello, sore core!). And if you're a first-time rider, while it might be a little intimidating, horseback riding is accessible to anybody and can give you benefits that extend far beyond the physical.
Before we go any further, let us speak plainly: There is no weight limit when it comes to horseback riding. "Like people, horses come in all different sizes (some weigh as much as 2,000 pounds!) and fitness levels, and your riding instructor will make sure you and your horse are well-matched," says Alison Stout, DO, fellowship director at Evergreen Sport and Spine Center in Kirkland, Washington, who's ridden since she was nine.
Now that we've conquered that hurdle, here are six good reasons to saddle up:
1. It tones your abs better than planks and crunches.
Riding a horse requires that you sit upright. "Your body position tells the horse where to go, which will tax your core muscles," says Lisa Bedient, kid's program supervisor and program coordinator for the Harmony with Horses program at Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Arizona. Plus, because you're moving with the horse, you're always adjusting your position, and your core will help you stay centered. In the end, you'll get better results from riding a horse than doing planks and crunches in the gym, Stout says.
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2. Your posture will improve.
Riding helps develop postural muscles (think shoulder blades and upper back) that help you stand taller in daily life. And in fact, you'll develop more traditional upper body strength when and if you take on general horse maintenance: picking up the saddle, brushing the horse. The upshot? "Horseback riding can replace your regular strength-training workout," Stout says.
3. Your coordination will improve.
Regular horseback riding might help you rock those bootcamp classes. Why? "Riding a horse is like rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time," Stout says. You're working your arms and legs simultaneously while trying to control your core, which will make you better coordinated in everything you do.
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4. You'll get a good stretch.
Although it's not quite like going to yoga class, horseback riding can increase your flexibility. "Swinging your leg over the horse to get on and off and reaching and twisting all promote flexibility to some degree," Stout says.
5. It banishes stress.
Numerous studies have found that being in the presence of an animal lowers stress levels. "Horses have such a calming presence that stress automatically goes to the wayside," Bedient says. Furthermore, working with horses requires your complete attention, more so than other activities (like walking), so you'll have little time to worry about other things.
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6. Your confidence will soar.
Most people feel nervous when they get on a horse for the first time. In fact, says Bedient, no matter how many times you've ridden, you're always going to have anxiety climbing onto a several-hundred-pound animal. After the ride, though, you'll have such a large sense of accomplishment that you'll feel like you could conquer the world.
Ready to saddle up? To locate places that offer horseback lessons, ask friends or a local feed store, or do an online search. Before you commit, though, visit the location and tour the facility, even watch a lesson, asking as many questions as you want. Bedient says that you should get a warm and friendly feeling from the instructor, and the instructor should be willing to work with students on an individual basis.
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